Empire Station Complex could include 10 skyscrapers and natural light in existing Penn Station

Travelers move through the boarding area for trains during the Thanksgiving holiday travel rush at Pennsylvania Station in New York
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority wants to provide more natural light for commuters in Penn Station by removing the top floor and adding skylights.

There’s just two little problems — Madison Square Garden stands overhead, and the plans for the Empire Station Complex may include 10 skyscrapers above the transit hub.

The greatly expanded train mecca, which would swallow up an entire block south of Penn Station, has been on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s wishlist since January 2020 when he included it in his State of the State address that year, but COVID-19 put those plans on hold.

Now, MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber has presented two plans to a committee advisory council on Friday that will due away with the “enclosed box” scenario that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers deal with on the day-to-day under pre-pandemic conditions.

One proposal includes taking out 40% of the station’s upper level, making 40-foot ceilings on the one remaining level as well as widening the concourse. The other would be to simply leave things as they are and add an atrium to a former Amtrak waiting area.

“You are lost in this enclosed box,” Lieber told the WSJ. “What we want to do in either version is to open it up.”

How much the station improvements will cost is not quite clear, but Lieber said federal grant funding for the $30 billion Gateway Program could be diverted and Amtrak seems open to the proposals.

The MTA will not be getting significant funding through Albany this year, but it will get roughly $137 million from the state budget to cover operating expenses if the Assembly’s spending plan is passed. But the majority of the $11.3 Billion that may be allocated by the state to transportation will more than likely go to highways.

“Every day, millions of New Yorkers rely on public transportation and quality roads and bridges to live their everyday lives,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “The transportation funding included in the Assembly budget makes critical investments in our economy and provides necessary funding for the MTA and other transportation networks throughout the state that have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as infrastructure funding to improve aging roads and bridges.”

But the plan for the Empire Station Complex does not end with trains; on Friday the New York Post reported that 10 skyscrapers were snuck into the plan reviewed by Layla Law-Gisiko, chair of Community Board 5’s land use, housing and zoning committee.

Of the ten, five could rise up to 1,300 feet, and two over 900 feet, and all would form a boundary around the Empire Station Complex in a two-block radius. Fears have arisen that this part of the plan would benefit a few developers while progressing without oversight from the city or state legislature.